Sunday, February 07, 2016

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

It's the last weekend before Ash Wednesday, the one and only time during the year I make jambalaya.

It's not that I dislike it; quite the contrary, in spite of an intimidatingly long ingredient list (the spice list has seven ingredients, the rest of the dish another thirteen) it is both easy to make and very, very tasty.

The heat signature isn't like spicy Mexican food. A bit less sharp on initial taste, the heat nonetheless builds as you eat. That bite comes primarily from pepper: black, white and a measly 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne spread over six generous servings.

Still, it was enough to make my nose run and my ears drain.

Best of all, there are containers snugged away for lunches Monday and Tuesday.

It's been a strange weekend. I took Friday off, intending to go test drive a car, then do a whole lot of sewing. Instead, I lazed around home, took a long nap and swallowed a couple of tylenol every four hours. Thursday, I'd spent most of the workday simply longing for home, tired, achy, miserable. It took until Saturday afternoon before I felt better.

Around three p.m. I finally wandered into the studio to do my "20 minutes" for the February sewing challenge. I'd not been up to working on anything Thursday or Friday; I had some ground to make up. As it happened, I didn't shut everything down until over seven hours later (less about forty minutes to make and eat dinner).

At long last, all seven charity quilts are bound. I've moved on to making the little stuffed owls that will go along with them. The pattern itself is simple, but the wings and feet are padded, which means it takes a bit to get them ready. As of this afternoon (another four hours or so in the studio), the wings and feet are assembled and need only a little bit of machine quilting to suggest feathers and veins.

With a bit of persistence, I should have them all assembled and ready to stuff before the work week is done. Then they can be set aside until the 20th, which is a Craft Day with a friend (I've learned the hard way not to expect to get anything substantive done on these craft days - mindlessly stuffing fiberfill up an owl's behind sounds just about right for a task for the 20th).

The plan then is to move to a long overdue machine quilting project for a friend. The backing I initially picked up for it turned out to be rather odd - considerably more loosely woven than it should be. I need to find a nice substitute, and I can layer things up this coming weekend.

Never did make it to the test drive. Both tax refunds came Friday/Saturday, so I'm set to go. Just not in the mood (and I get crabby when I'm sick, so it's just as well the salesperson - who has already rubbed me the wrong way several times - didn't have to deal with me.

It doesn't sound like much, but except for being under the weather, it was a lovely weekend.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Tuesday quick bits

The Drop and Give Me Twenty challenge started yesterday. I spent over an hour messing around in the studio, but working on the boring-but-necessary task of marking, sewing and cutting continuous bias binding for the charity fleece throws.
The process is pretty simple, even if it is based in geometry.

Marking the lines, however, is tedious. I'd made the parallelogram weeks ago, then marked about five lines of bias and cut it off the main piece. That bound two of the charity quilts. I hacked off another length last week, which did two more. This is the last of what I'd originally prepared - I hope it will stretch (though not literally) to finish up the last three quilts.

Hurrah for Ted Cruz. Not sure he's my first choice, but in addition to Anyone-But-Hillary, I'm strongly behind Anyone-But-Trump. Rubio made enough of a showing to continue on, and may well have momentum on his side.

The big Midwest snowstorm this week is bypassing southeastern Wisconsin pretty much entirely. Except for a "short, strong burst" of snow around lunchtime (snow total estimates of 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches), we will be getting rain with the possibility of some sleet after the sun goes down and temperatures drop below freezing. I'm starting to feel cheated; I would have loved a snow day.

The Great Car Search of 2016 has begun. I've appointments for test drives at two places back-to-back Thursday night. There is a possibility I may cancel the one; the reviews of the model I'd try out say the pull on the gear shift knob when shifting is rather long, and the clutch pedal has a longer-than-average travel until you can actually shift. With the amount of in and out I do on the drive home every day, that extra work to shift would become a major annoyance in a hurry.

The other test is at my Honda dealer. After twenty plus years, you can certainly say I'm Honda loyal...except this particular salesman has been a bit of a pill. I'd left my phone number off an internet inquiry (deliberately - it wasn't required) and he apparently thought he was clever by looking in their records, finding out I was a customer so he could call me rather than email his response. I've already read him the riot act over that. I both don't need a new car right now and certainly don't need to buy from him. We'll see how it goes.

It is Mission Week at the university. The theme this year is "Earthjustice: Committing to Our Sacred World". Today's reflection - emailed directly to us - is by a professor who describes himself as an "environmental economist". While I'm all for good stewardship of the incredibly rich planet the good Lord created for us, there is a severe mental disconnect going on in my mind thinking about a society that can declare the earth "sacred" and at the same time make it legal to murder millions of unborn babies, mostly for convenience's sake. I doubt the university would ever theme a mission week around the plight of the unborn - it's not p.c.

A virus is making the rounds of the office. Sore throat, congestion, coughing - uncomfortable, but most people aren't looking at it as serious enough to stay home. And so, it spreads.

Enough work avoidance, I suppose. Back to it...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Challenging year

I've never paid a whole lot of attention to posts online trumpeting the latest challenge. Food, eating plans, books to read, fitness - eh.

That changed last May when I joined up in a quilting challenge. I managed to completely finish three of the seven mini quilts during the actual challenge, as well as completely piece and layer a fourth. I've designed (in my head, anyway) the remaining three, to the point of having the fabric on hand.

Not bad, considering the short turnaround time and the fact of a more-than-fulltime job.

I've declared 2016 the year of finishes, in all areas of my life. Quilting just happens to be one of the easier areas to tackle. To that end, I've entered a challenge for the month of February:

The Drop and Give Me Twenty challenge, run by Beth Helfter via a Facebook group.

The object of the DAGMT (why on earth does that acronym always make me think "dadgumit"?) challenge is to spend a minimum of 20 minutes per day quilting during the month of February. The real end goal is to finish up some UFOs (unfinished objects) that could otherwise become TOADs (trashed objects abandoned in disgust).

While I don't have anything that would ever be considered a TOAD, I do have a considerable backlog of projects in process. Time to buckle down.

Did I mention there are sponsors and prizes?

Sometime over the weekend I'll post a list of things I need to work on this month. Ideally, I'd put up a post each day chronicling my progress, but that would take away from quilting time. We'll see how that goes.

Twenty minutes doesn't sound like lot of time (and note that is a minimum), but a lot of progress can be seen when you are consistent about it. I've the luxury of a separate studio where the machine is always set up. In fact, I may set up both machines for this month, the better to switch between things that have different settings.

Four days to organize, then off to the races!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

No (more) soup for you

Hot soup on a cold day is nourishing, warming and tasty. So much so I may just have had a bit too much of it.

I blame Facebook.

A current fad, at least in my timeline, is for people to repost videos of recipes. Disembodied hands measure, pour and cook the different dishes, until the final shot of a foodblog styled, perfectly cooked entree.

One of the recent posts featured a crock pot chicken with wild rice soup. I adore my own version of that soup, but I'm willing to branch out and try something different.

After tracking down the actual recipe (I hate videos with a passion - give me printed words on a page and I can do anything.), I gathered up the ingredients to load down the crock this afternoon.

While you still need to make the bechamel on the stove, adding it to the crock near the end of the cooking time, the overall process is pretty easy. The end result? Pretty tasty, without the sticky sweetness the evaporated milk gives to my own version.

The caveat? This filled my almost 6 quart crock pot to the brim. After filling my covered soup mug for lunch tomorrow (20 ounces), filling a covered coringware 2 quart bowl for eating the rest of the week and eating two big mugsful for dinner, I've still frozen four, two cup containers.

Bring on the cold weather.

Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup - crock pot

1/2 cup uncooked wild rice
1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (cut pieces in half if large)
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
4 -5 cloves minced garlic
1 -2 bay leaves
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 T Italian seasoning
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt

Bechamel:
5 T butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk (whole works best, but you can use even skim if you are patient)

Rinse the rice under running water. In a 5 1/2 quart slow cooker, place the rices, carrots, onion, celery. garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, water, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and chicken in the slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 - 8 hours.

Half an hour before the end of the cooking time, remove the chicken and allow it to cool slightly. Shred and return to the cooker.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour, stirring to combine and cooking for at least a full minute. slowly add the milk while whisking to remove lumps. Continue to stir over medium heat until the sauce thickens and becomes creamy.

Add the thickened bechamel to the crock and stir well. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning as needed. Let stand five minutes before serving (soup will thicken as it stands).


Monday, January 18, 2016

New Year goal: Project completion

Piles lean precariously in multiple spots in the sewing studio, a sure sign of scatter brained behavior. In other words, not really finishing one thing before moving on to another.

Well, this is going to be the year of endings. Finishing things, or deciding they need to be handed on to someone who will finish them.

Over a year ago, I bought a dozen kitchen towels to embroider. A basket full of towels sits on top of the refrigerator; I generally go through one a day. After almost ten years of use, the ones I'm currently using are showing signs of age. Besides, it would be good practice to do so many, knowing they aren't meant as gifts and I can just...play.

Well, I ended up making a set of towels as part of a silent auction donation for the 2014 Christmas party, then two sets for the 2016 party. There were six towels in the pack I bought for the 2016 donation, two each of red, blue and green borders. The red and blue ones were used for the donation. The green ones? Well, my kitchen is blue, as are the towels I mean to do for me. But a friend has a passion for gingerbread people, and I had a cute set of gingerbread applique patterns, so...

None of these have been trimmed or cleaned up yet, but they are too cute not to share. The gingers are in the hoop applique - the body of the gingers and the bows are pieces of fabric, positioned on the background, tacked down, trimmed, then embroidered over.

The other two are actually two of my towels, finally. These are filled embroidery; the design is made entirely of machine embroidery. It was the first time I'd done a filled design that large (each chef is roughly 4 or 5 inches by six inches), and they took forever to stitch out. The result, however, was worth it.

Well, not worth it enough for me to do all twelve in filled designs. I've done another eight in bluework, where the outline and a few details of the chef are stitched in blue thread. Two more will be done with the high end design company's version of French chefs. That will need to wait until I have an entire weekend and more patience than I did today. Those designs are rather...intense.

Ah, but that's not all. After discovering I had bought the wrong foot for a scarf hemming project (long story not worth retelling), I moved on this afternoon to experimenting with the binding attachment purchased at the closing of my beloved local quilt store (purchased for half price - even I'm not crazy enough to pay full price for it).

When you feed your unfolded bias binding into the hopper on this attachment, it miraculously folds it and snugs it around the edge of the piece you are binding, just before the binding/quilt reaches the needle that sews it down. My "practice" pieces are the owl embroidered charity quilts.

I did the first one today.

As you can see, it works a treat. There is a definite learning curve (which is why I didn't photograph my very clumsy corners) and a certain art to using this thing, but for smaller projects, these single thickness fleece blankets and things like hot pads and placemats, it will be a great time saver.

Ordinarily, I'd have used green or blue thread to sew this on. Somehow, I knew I'd be ripping out, unsewing a bit as part of the learning process; the white thread is much easier to see when ripping.

Note that neither of these projects is actually done. There are still a couple of towels to embroider, not to mention all of them to do the picky, time consuming clean up work for. This owl quilt is done, but there are six more in the stack (each one bigger than the one before it).

Still, a decent start on a bitter cold Monday.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

At least my insides are warm

It is one, lonely degree right now.

That is the high for the day.

Thankfully, my heat works well, and I spent a good potion of the later morning and afternoon in the studio, which is the warmest downstairs room.

Aside from wanting to sew, I needed to be in the studio for its proximity to the kitchen (the studio has two doors, one to the small hallway past the bathroom to the living room, one to the east end of the galley kitchen). Nothing warms you up on a bitter cold day like soup. Tex-Mex soup, in this case.

It's a bit like liquid loaded nachos - tomatoes, sour cream, corn, black beans, warm spices, fresh cilantro and cooked, chopped turkey. The soup can be topped with cheese, corn chips and more sour cream, completing the nachos comparison. The spices give warmth rather than fire, much like they do in my smothered chicken with barley.

Tex-Mex Soup

Roughly 6 servings

1 T olive oil
1/2 c minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 t chili powder
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t oregano
4 cups water
1 (10.75 oz) can condensed tomato soup
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 c salsa
4 c shredded turkey
1 T dried parsley
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 (14 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 c frozen corn
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c fresh cilanto, choppped

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Stir in water, tomato soup, diced tomatoes, salsa, shredded turkey, parsley and bouillon cubes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes o until bouillon cubes dissolve.

Add black beans, corn, sour cream and cilantro. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve topped with your choice of crushed corn chips (Xochitil are my favorites), monterey jack cheese, more sour cream or cilantro.

My notes:
Do not just throw the chili powder, cumin and oregano in the pot and immediately add the water, but follow the directions to stir and cook for a minute. It's called "blooming" the spices, and warming them this way activates their flavor. It does make a difference.

Feel free to skip the whole water and chicken bouillon thing and use four cups of stock from a box, made from a soup starter or created by any of your favorite methods. You don't really want anything that has a strong taste of its own, though.

Chicken works just as well as turkey. While I bought and purpose-cooked turkey breast, any kind of left over poultry, as long as it wasn't too highly seasoned to start with, works well. The friend who gave me the recipe in the first place uses this as her go-to leftover Thanksgiving turkey recipe.

The finished soup freezes/thaws nicely.

Considering I'm not a fan of black beans, sour cream or cilantro, it's a bit of a miracle that I love this soup as much as I do. It certainly warmed me up today.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mashed Classics

If you haven't seen this yet, you really, really want to take a look. It's absolutely brilliant.

While it starts out fairly simply, with just two composers, by the time you reach the end, there are four different lines, two treble and two bass, representing four different composers. The changes of keys and time signatures is staggering, yet the whole piece flows as if it were purposely written by a single composer.